When I tell people that I am a Director of a Summer Camp 90% of the time the very next question is “What do you do when it's not summer?” To be fair, it is a good question. The view from the outside is that my job has huge importance for three months during the summer and then the rest of the year I disappear from peoples minds. I can understand this even as I started on summer staff I did not fully understand what the year-round staff did during the “off-season.” Now that I have worked in a year-round position for a few years I figured I could give you a little insight into some of what I do as a director when it's not summer time.
Planning. Planning. Planning. If you are reading this and know anything about me you probably found this as a surprise. I am not someone who plans a lot in my personal life, but when it comes to my work, it is what takes up a lot of my time. As a director, I am planning everything that Camp needs to get done. From social media posts, to maintenance needs of buildings and property, to retreat groups and eagle scout meetings, I am always planning. While camp is a bustling place during the summer, it doesn't just close once that is over. The property is open year round with different groups using our facilities for everything from mission trips to family reunions. That means that all of our buildings and grounds need to be ready for people all the time. Speaking of summer camp, the campers and staff that make that happen every summer don’t just show up at our door every week. I spend a lot of time getting our staff hired, registering campers, and making groups for our weeks of camp.
Programming design. No, I am not sitting at a computer designing the next best operating system, but I am developing what our campers and our staff are going to learn throughout our summer. Very early on in the offseason, I start working on what went well with our programming before and how I can make it better for the next summer. I look at what I want my staff to learn and discover as they work together. I develop and assemble our theme for our campers. After I have the big decisions made I then study, research, and fully detail out all sides of our programming. This means our campers will have bible verses, songs, crafts, and games all developed and planned for what they will be learning each day. Then for our staff, I will have gathered resources on how to build their leadership abilities, strengthen their teamwork, and build their confidence both at camp and in their everyday life. I place high importance on programming because it is our main product, so I take a lot of time to develop this fully.
So there's just a little look into what I do as a Director at a Summer Camp. This is just a taste of what I do, and there is so much more that could get thrown in. To me, one of the most significant aspects of this job is that no two days look the same. There are days where I am reading and studying leadership theory all day and then the next I am outside making sure our lodges are ready for retreat groups coming for the weekend. I love my job and is unpredictability; it keeps me entertained and always looking to learn something new. I hope this answers the question at least a little bit and that you can see all the hard work that gets done behind the scenes just for those big three months.
“How was school?”
This is how so many dinner conversations start and end with children today, and not all the blame can be put on screen time and shorter attention spans. It is true kids today do have challenges interacting with not only with adults but with their own peers. But I would also like to put some fault on the way we as adults communicate with them.
In the example given above it is easy to see how parents are frustrated by their kids’ lack of communication with them. My question to that would be are you asking the right question? Take for example instead of asking “How was school?” why not ask “What was something you learned today?” By simply re-framing the way you asked for information you have required your child to give a specific response. Think of it like this if you were presented a question on a test that allowed you to answer any way you wanted it would likely take you longer to answer than if it gave specific information that it wanted. The same thing is happening at your dinner table. When you ask your child an overly broad question like “How was your day?” they are not shutting down but are simply taking the easy answer by saying “good” while if you ask for specific information, they can pull from particular events that they experienced that day.
This same pattern can then be used to continue a conversation and spark further dialog. For example, say your child told you something they learned that day follow with a question that dives into that like “why was that interesting?” This allows them to explain their opinion and gives you a chance to begin talking about their interests. This leads to another significant aspect of creating better conversation. Your house or dinner table needs to feel like a safe place for your kids to share their experiences and interests. This may sound simple, but just by not engaging when your child tells a story, you are showing them that next time they may not share it because you were not happy with it. Every human being whether young or old wants to feel accepted and when they share something they enjoy with people, and they don’t recognize it they no longer feel safe to do that again.
So below are some sample conversation questions you can ask to start a conversation or extend conversation once something has been shared.
What was something you did today that excited you?
Why was it exciting?
Who made it exciting?
How did they make it exciting?
What was the funniest thing to happen to you today?
What do you think about (fill in event or news story here)?
Why do you have that opinion?
What do you want to do this weekend?
“Summer Camp is fun but when are you going to get a real job.” I have heard this or similar statements for years. From family to friends so many times I have been asked why I was wasting my time “having fun” instead of developing my resume or getting my name into professional fields. Even now as a director I still have some people ask “how long is this going to last before you get a good job.”
The culture we live in now pushes college-age kids towards the need to decide their futures as soon as they enter their university and in many cases before that. With that pressure comes the need to develop a career through each and every opportunity that they take. That means everything from classes they choose to summer employment needs to be directed towards an end goal of their job. We have made college a time that is no longer about discovering what you want to do for your future but merely a place to further your predetermined career aspirations. And in that culture, we have created the perception of a fun summer working with kids at summer camp just doesn't fit. The opinion still stands that summer camp will never prepare you for the ever-present “real world” that is waiting to devour unprepared young adults.
I would like to offer a counter-argument to this idea. I may have some bias as a long time summer staffer and now a camp director but I have seen the impact of camp employment not just on me but on my friends who are involved in all aspects of the “real world.” This isn’t just something that I believe its something that people in cooperate America are realizing as well. Companies around the world are looking for camp counselors they just don’t know it yet. The skills that employers see as valuable are the same ones that camp staff are developing working with their co-workers and campers every day. Michael McCutcheon, a career coach at Wanderlust Careers in New York City, says "The great thing about overnight camp counselors is that they have actual, real, valuable skills, Like the ability to work with people from all sorts of backgrounds, the ability to hold the attention of antsy audiences, outside-the-box thinking." I don’t know when the last time you tried to entertain a group of 2nd graders with some construction paper, markers, and your own wit but I can tell you that it is a challenging experience. That's just one of the thousands of situations that summer staff deal with on a daily basis.
The skills developed as a camp counselor are ones that translate to the “real world” because summer camp is a perfect example of the “real world.” Camp is a place that people of all different backgrounds and cultures come together and coexist with the guidance of the summer staff. If that doesn’t prepare a student for the world that we live in, I don’t know what else will. Staffers practice conflict resolution, communication, problem-solving, and working through exhaustion every day while keeping a very inattentive audience happy and entertained. So don’t let people tell you that “summer camp won’t prepare you for your future” or that “you need a real job this summer” tell them you will get that experience and more working at summer camp.
In the age that we live in now, families are bombarded with different programs, schools, and systems that promise to teach their child how to be the best. Whether it is sports, school, or the arts, there is something out there that will get your kid to be the best at it. And as parents, I think that there is a hope that your child will succeed and be happy in whatever they choose to be “their thing.” One of the many options available to parents every summer is to have their children go to summer camp.
Summer Camp can be a scary decision to make if you are a parent. Your child will be away in someone else's care for at least the day if not a week or more. They will not have you around to help them or protect them, so the question arises “Is summer camp worth it?” To that, I say yes every time. Summer camp offers children a chance to discover what it is like to be themselves outside of their typical daily lives. They have an opportunity to develop new skills that may never have been needed or used before.
When a camper arrives at summer camp, they instantly have been transported to a new environment where they quite possibly know no one. While this is a scary thought, it also allows them to decide who they want to be. They no longer are roped into whatever box they have when they are in school or at home, at camp they are whoever they decide to be. After this realization, they also now have to learn how to communicate with an entirely new set of peers and mentors. This creates a safe space for them to learn and develop their communication skills and make new friends in the process. Now with a new attitude and new friends, campers learn how to work as a team to accomplish tasks at camp whether that is physical tasks like a ropes course or social tasks like deciding how to interact with each other campers learn to work together.
Overall summer camp when done correctly allows children to develop skills that will help them become well-rounded adults. My advice is to research your opportunities and to ask questions. Find a camp that your child will be interested in and you think is safe. Camp is a beautiful place for children to learn and make new friends all they have to do is show up.